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Today’s job market is recession-weary and hyper-competitive, with a flood of potential employees for every open position. To many employers, it might seem that the odds are stacked in their favor. They can afford to be choosy, demand more and offer less. After all, there are plenty of qualified applicants waiting in the wings.

However, there’s a big danger in treating your employees like a commodity. The best employees—those with high skills and/or knowledge, flexibility, a great work ethic, and passionate—are hard to come by in a market flooded with desperate applicants. And those types of employees are being actively sought by your competition.

Great employees are the lifeblood of any organization, yet many feel under-appreciated for their efforts (or even invisible). Are your best and brightest secretly updating their resumes? Here are seven ways you can lose them to your competitors if you’re not careful.

No one is listening

Every human being needs to feel that their contributions are appreciated and that their opinion matters. Otherwise work is a mindless drudge with no purpose (other than a paycheck), and the employee has no emotional connection to the work they do or the company that employs them. This kind of disconnect results in poor performance, high levels of emotional stress and turnover. When no one seems to be listening and nothing they do seems to make a difference, your employees will seek that fundamental validation somewhere else.

Culture only values success

There’s nothing wrong with setting the bar high, but pitting your employees against each other in terms of performance is a recipe for failure. People want to feel they belong to a workplace community where they can develop friendships, encourage others and feel encouraged themselves. Companies that only seem to value “wins” and “quota crushers” and don’t encourage a culture of community lose out. Those that value team building and encourage risk taking, on the other hand, tend to keep quality employees longer.

No internal mentoring… from both sides

Speaking of teams, it’s really no secret that mentoring (both being mentored and the act of mentoring another person), is a valuable practice for both new and established employees. It instills a sense of welcome for the new employee who’s a little nervous about fitting in, and helps all participants establish good relationships in a collaborative atmosphere. Why are so many companies not making this a priority for their HR departments? Nothing is more frustrating than entering a new job and feeling isolated as you’re trying to learn the ropes. If you were to walk into a new company and be told, “Welcome to Company X! Here’s your desk, and here’s a copy of the company employee manual—good luck!” How would you feel? Not having an internal mentoring system is plain old poor business practice… and it should not go away as soon as the new employee feels comfortable, continuous mentoring is how you build leaders for the future and keep employees longer. If you want to retain good people, set up one. Otherwise you’re shooting yourself in the foot.

People are afraid to voice their opinions

Are your employees afraid that if they voice an opinion they might get put down, harassed or even fired? This is another culture issue that is overlooked by those organizations that are out of touch with their staff. Remember, you’re not the only game in town. There are plenty of companies among your competition that encourage open communication as an integral part of their culture. If your employees’ feel they have to be silent drones and watch their backs in order to keep their positions, you can bet they’ll soon be looking around for a more positive environment in which to work. How many of you have been in brain storming sessions, one after another… with no Brains Storming???

Senior leadership is removed and doesn’t lead by example

Your employees watch your leadership style and take cues from it. If they never hear a word from the C-suite outside the executive office, or if they feel there is a disparity between your stated values and what you actually do—watch out. It’s hard to “rally the troops” if they don’t feel connected to you or your ideals. Leaders who truly inspire their employees lead by example. They’re personable and accessible, and employees feel they can trust them. Do more of that or your likely to lose your employees with the highest integrity—the ones you really want to keep.

Stifling social environment

Do you require that employees shut down (or severely limit) their social presence? Are violations of this policy grounds for dismissal? If you’re afraid of what your employees might say about you in their private networks, then you’ve either hired the wrong employees or you’re in the wrong business. Every company should have a clear social media policy, but it shouldn’t include draconian measures to control conversation. More and more companies are finding value in empowering their employees to be advocates for them in their private networks. Your best employees can also be your top advocates to the outside world—and garner more trust with your brand than your executives. Trying to quash social connection is short-sighted and ultimately destructive. Employees are going to “be social” anyway. They will seek a work environment that penalizes them less and appreciates them more.

No ability to work remotely occasionally

I’m always surprised by the number of companies today that are inflexible when it comes to allowing personnel to work remotely (at least some of the time). It’s a “control” thing, and it’s seldom warranted. Do you really have to have every worker under your thumb at the office every day? Current technologies make it relatively easy to set up remote networks, monitor hours, set up group meetings—everything you can do from the office. Most employees view being able to work remotely (even one day a week) as a great perk, and it can benefit your organization as well. In fact, some large-scale enterprises are finding it cheaper to send a significant number of their personnel home to work rather than having them take up expensive corporate space. Given the right tools and support, any employee who’s disciplined and dedicated can manage their time well enough to work from home effectively. Watch your competition’s practices. They might be stealing some of your best workers with this perk.

As you can see, retaining great employees isn’t just a matter of paying them more. You need to also pay attention to them more. If the people who run your company’s day-to-day operations feel ignored, unappreciated or stifled, they most likely won’t stick around long. The best way to keep great employees is to show them you truly value their contribution. Avoid the above scenarios.

Chances are good that your competition is going out of their way to offer support, a flexible working environment and a sense of family and common purpose. If you do the same, chances are good that your relationships with your best employees will flourish.

Image: wwworks

Originally Posted at Inside CXM, July 31st, 2015

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